Lung cancer is the second-most common form of cancer for both women and men found in the United States. Experts expect to see more than 200,000 new cases of lung cancer and more than 100,000 deaths caused by this type of cancer in 2021. Only prostate cancer for men and breast cancer for women are more common. Lung cancer screening can help identify lung cancer early.
If you used to smoke or live with a smoker, you may have questions about your risk of developing lung cancer. Detecting lung cancer and starting treatment as soon as possible increase your odds of recovery.
Lung cancer screening criteria and options
Before screening you for lung cancer, your doctor will ask questions about your smoking history and habits. This information helps the doctor determine whether you should go through the screening process. For example, the lung cancer screening age is between 50 and 80, so the doctor will not likely refer you for screening if you’re older or younger.
Currently, the only recommended screening test used to detect lung cancer are low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans. You lie on a table while an X-ray machine uses low-dose radiation to make images of your lungs. The procedure is not painful and can be completed fairly quickly.
However, new technology is being implemented that allows lung cancer to be diagnosed in its earlier stages, improving survival rates and creating less invasive methods of identifying the disease.
Lung cancer screening requirements
Even if you currently smoke, you may not be eligible for lung cancer screening. However, for those who meet the requirements, lung cancer screening is a critical tool in diagnosing lung cancer. If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you may meet the requirements:
- Are you between the ages of 50 and 80?
- Do you currently smoke, or have you quit within the past 15 years?
- Do you have a 20 pack-year or more history of smoking?
A pack-year is a tool doctors use to add up how many cigarettes someone smoked during a period of time. The pack-year is the number of packs of cigarettes the person smoked each day multiplied by the number of years that person smoked. For example, if you smoked one pack (20 cigarettes) a day for 10 years, you have a pack-year of 10.
Risks of lung cancer screening
Lung cancer screening comes with some risks. That’s why doctors use screening only for people who have a high risk of developing lung cancer.
Sometimes the screening tool reports a false positive. The patient may then need to go through more testing that they don’t need or deal with anxiety as they wait for further testing. They also may find other forms of cancer that do not pose an immediate threat to the patient. It’s also important to know that the screening includes radiation exposure. While the amount of radiation in one screening test is low, this may cause other problems over time.
Lung cancer symptoms
Many people with lung cancer do not have symptoms, and when they do, it’s often in a more advanced stage. Early detection is important in reducing the risk of death from lung cancer. Those who notice signs or symptoms may experience the following:
- A new cough that doesn’t go away
- A hoarse voice
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Lung infections that keep coming back
- Producing spit or phlegm tinged with a rust color
- Shortness of breath
- Weight and appetite loss
Tips for reducing your risk of lung cancer
You can lower your risk of lung cancer by changing your habits and lifestyle. First, don’t smoke. If you still smoke, quit. Between 80 and 90 percent of the people who die from lung cancer were smokers. Stay away from secondhand smoke. You can start by making your home and vehicle smoke-free zones.
It’s also helpful to avoid agents that doctors know can cause lung cancer. Things that increase your risk factors for lung cancer include radon, asbestos, diesel exhaust and certain chemicals.
When to talk to a doctor
If you are a current smoker or have quit, you may consider talking to your primary care provider about whether lung cancer screening is right for you at this time. If you have lung cancer symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor today and find out whether you meet screening requirements.
Even if your doctor determines that you don’t meet the guidelines for lung cancer screening now, it’s important to maintain annual wellness visits in order to stay up to date on your health and lower your risk for developing lung cancer and other conditions.